Empowering Teachers and Campus Leadership: Tyler ISD’s Recipe for Student Success

Liliana Camacho
10/09/18
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Quick take: At Tyler ISD, teachers and campus leadership development is the key to successful student outcomes, with technology as a central partner to achieving professional learning across the independent school district’s multiple locations.

Tyler, Texas, United States

At Tyler ISD, the largest independent school district in Northeast Texas, every decision is made with the students at the center. Being student-centric serves this school district well, as their main goal is to prepare them to become productive citizens who contribute to the region’s economic growth and are community-oriented. With ambitious campus improvement plans set to be accomplished by 2021, Tyler ISD is focusing on teacher and campus leadership teams to drive student success.

Tyler ISD serves over 18,000 students throughout 36 campuses and auxiliary facilities, including 17 elementary schools, six middle schools, two high schools, two alternative schools, and one special education campus. With a total of 2,690 staff members including 1,210 teachers spanning 193 square miles, having the right tools in place for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other is Tyler ISD’s current recipe for success. The school district is placing great focus on the professional development of teachers and campus leadership and believes that peer learning and cooperation is the key to teacher retention and satisfaction, and ultimately, to student success. Dr. Christy Hanson, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Tyler ISD, explains, “Tyler ISD values its teachers and campus personnel as the primary gatekeepers to a positive educational experience for all students. We want to attract and retain high quality teachers who influence students toward their individual potential.”

Photo Dr. Christy Hanson, Assistant Superintendent Curriculum and Instruction, Tyler ISD
Dr. Christy Hanson, Assistant Superintendent Curriculum and Instruction at Tyler ISD.

Empowering Teachers and Campus Leaders Through Professional Learning

At Tyler ISD, the ultimate goal is generating successful student outcomes, which are fueled by the quality and satisfaction of its teaching staff. According to research done by the school district, teachers’ professional development is the key to student progression and success. Hiring the best teaching talent and keeping them engaged through professional learning and development is an essential part of their continuous improvement strategy. As a result, building a healthy learning environment that is designed to attract, engage and retain teachers is a primary driver for Tyler ISD’s success in preparing students beyond K-12.

By providing teachers with the right tools and opportunities to learn, they will feel more satisfied in their roles, keep student engagement high, and deliver the targeted student outcomes. Dr. Hanson explains that research conducted at Tyler ISD has pointed them in a clear direction. The school district has found that teacher self-efficacy1 and collaboration2 positively contribute to teachers’ job satisfaction, while reducing stress. By creating an environment that promotes teaching effectiveness, Tyler ISD is setting their teachers up for success, and ultimately, their students. This is mainly accomplished through peer collaboration, and the result is that teaching staff become more empowered and confident in their role as facilitators of learning. “Teachers want to have a sense that they are good at what they do and are making a difference in the lives of students,” affirms Dr. Hanson.

Promoting teacher self-efficacy and collaboration is largely achieved through the effective use of technology. Tyler ISD has partnered with Blackboard Classroom to provide teachers with a virtual professional learning community. Due to the district’s size and reach, having an online platform that enables peer collaboration is a factor in the success of Tyler ISD’s professional learning initiative. Blackboard Classroom is Blackboard’s solution for K-12 that enables personalized learning anytime, anywhere. Teachers are able to exchange ideas, give and receive feedback, and support each other to improve their craft. Dr. Hanson explains, “Through our partnership with Blackboard Classroom, we are able to provide a virtual professional learning community among district teachers. They are able to collaborate about their content, offer suggested activities and lessons, and give direct feedback about the written curriculum and/or assessments.”

One of the keys to student success is curriculum – its design and personalization can be a game changer for student outcomes. Dr. Hanson points out that in order for any curriculum to be effective, “a culture of continuous professional learning is essential.” And while school districts have to comply with school board objectives, Tyler ISD is placing its focus on transforming professional learning as a fundamental part of students’ continued improved performance, instead of having an approach to curriculum that is driven by compliance measures only. This is attained by “engaging teachers in the professional learning experiences at the district level and campus level,” says Dr. Hanson. “We place a strong emphasis on professional learning communities and are creating an additional layer of professional learning through our partnership with Blackboard Classroom.”

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The Importance of Effective Curriculum Delivery

While creating a solid written curriculum is important and the first crucial step for student success, it only comes to life through the quality of the teaching staff delivering it. Effectively implementing a curriculum is what “creates the learning opportunities for students,” affirms Dr. Hanson. Through professional learning, teachers are able to develop and perfect their craft, and as Tyler ISD has found, collaboration is a key component to delivering engaging, impactful, and meaningful learning experiences for students – with technology as its biggest partner.

According to Dr. Hanson, “When teachers are able to hone their teaching craft through collaboration with other teachers, curriculum staff, master teachers, and instructional specialists, they produce engaging learning for their students. Blackboard Classroom provides the platform for such collaboration to exist.”

Blackboard Classroom provides a systemic approach for campus leaders to participate in the collaborative process. For example, a school principal can have “easy accessibility to live content; he or she can participate in collaborative discussions and ask key questions that lead to high levels of student engagement,” comments Dr. Hanson.

In addition, Dr. Hanson explains that Tyler ISD knows that teachers learn best from their colleagues who are handling similar contents, grade levels or fields. For this reason, teachers play an important role when it comes to curriculum creation and professional learning experiences alike. “Our teachers go beyond ‘giving input’ toward the design of the written curriculum – they are the curriculum designers and developers. Teachers are also the main contributors of the professional learning experiences.  They are collaborating virtually in Blackboard Classroom: they post ideas, interact online, and assist one another across the district.” Dr. Hanson adds, “Through this collaborative approach with Blackboard, campus leaders are also able to have some campus autonomy while maintaining consistency to the instructional leadership systems across the district.”

To illustrate the power of collaboration, Dr. Hanson shares that ‘Teacher Experts’ at Tyler ISD designed a curriculum that resulted in improved growth for students during the 2017-2018 calendar year, compared to the previous year. For example, 3rd grade reading scores on the state assessment improved by 10% and 10 out of 17 campuses in Tyler ISD improved their 3rd grade reading scores by at least 3%. There was also an 8.5% increase in the percent of students that passed in 2018, relative to 2017. In addition, Tyler ISD students take the NWEA MAP* assessment in the beginning of the year, the middle of the year and the end of the year. See below the results for kindergarten, grades one and two.

Improved Growth During 2017-2018 Calendar Year

Increase %

Reading on Grade Level

Students Passed

Met Growth Measures

Kindergarten

20%

17.30%

30%

1st Grade

26%

22.30%

9%

2nd Grade

10%

7.80%

19%

Now, the independent school district has Teacher Expert teams in every core content at each grade level. “These teams are able to collaborate face to face and virtually through content horizontally and vertically; provide essential feedback about curriculum and assessment; and engage in improving the teacher practice. Blackboard Classroom will allow these Teacher Expert teams to work together virtually, which creates a highly efficient system of designing and implementing high quality curriculum,” shares Dr. Hanson.

Campus District Goals for 2021

The Tyler ISD Board of Trustees has set ambitious goals to meet by 2021. The three vision-driven strategic goals are:

Goal 1:  Early Literacy
85% of 3rd grade students reading on grade level by 2021.

Goal 2:  College Readiness
75% of graduates will be college ready by 2021.

Goal 3:  Career Technical Education (CTE)
72% of graduates will complete a CTE pathway by 2021.

Dr. Hanson explains: “Tyler ISD knows that if students have strong literacy skills and are able to stay on grade level, they have a higher likelihood of participating in post-secondary education and obtaining a high wage job.

Although Goal 1 emphasizes early literacy, the district is committed to teaching literacy skills at every level in every content.  Through their partnership with Blackboard Classroom, teachers collaborate to integrate reading strategies in every classroom, for every subject, at every grade level. Through strong literacy integration students continue to both learn how to read and read to learn throughout their entire K-12 experience, which translates into higher academic confidence and competence for students, as well as teachers.”

Preparing Students for Life Beyond K-12

Tyler ISD is committed to preparing students for life after their K-12 experience. The goal is to continue the district’s tradition of “producing citizens for Tyler who are actively engaged in the community through service and career. We are committed to helping students have full exposure to high quality content and extra-curricular activities that builds well-rounded adults,” affirms Dr. Hanson. In order for this vision to come to life, teachers, campus leaders and staff are at the heart of it all – collaborative, engaged, and satisfied educators are the key drivers to shaping resilient, self-directed, creative, and improvement focused members of society. As Dr. Hanson puts it, “The school board, superintendent, district administration and campus personnel keep the student(s) at the forefront of every decision.  We know that with a solid academic foundation, students of Tyler ISD will become productive citizens of East Texas who contribute to the economic growth and are service oriented toward the community.” Through effective instruction, students should be ready to tackle post-secondary education, enjoy productive work and careers of their choice, and face their lives and future confidently.

Students at Tyler ISD leave their formative years prepared in three key aspects:

Prepared academically for post-secondary education:

  • Resilient, self-directed learners
  • Literate across disciplines
  • Mastery of a broad, rigorous curriculum
  • Habits of continuous learning

Prepared for work and careers of their choice:

  • Dependable
  • Collaborative
  • Creative, innovative problem solvers
  • Goal-oriented

Prepared for life and their future:

  • Contributors to community and society
  • Trustworthy, ethical decision-makers
  • Self-aware and improvement focused
  • Social, emotional, and physical well-being

As Malcolm X famously said, “Education is our passport to the future. For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare it today.” That is precisely what Tyler ISD leadership and staff are working towards – laying a strong formative foundation today for tomorrow’s generation to effectively lead their community and lives.

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Dr. Christy Hanson, Assistant Superintendent Curriculum and Instruction at Tyler ISD

Sources:

1 Wolgast, A. & Fischer, N. (2017). You are not alone: colleague support and goal-oriented cooperation as resources to reduce teachers’ stress. Social Psychology in Education. Volume 20.
2 Skaalvik, E. & Skaalvik, S. (2017). Still motivated to teach? A study of school context variables, stress and job satisfaction among teachers in senior high school. Social Psychology in Education. Volume 20.

Photos:

AFP Chelsea Purgahn

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